Live Webinar: One Year After the Ukraine Invasion – How Can Cultural Heritage Professionals Play a Role?

Join us for this free webinar on February 6 at 10:00 AM New York 

February 24, 2023, marks one year since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, resulting in the immense destruction of livelihoods, communities, and cultural heritage. As efforts to strip Ukraine of its cultural identity continue today, the Antiquities Coalition will convene cultural heritage experts on February 6 to reflect on and discuss strategies for preserving and protecting the country’s history.

Speakers include Damian Koropeckyj and Dr. Kate Harrell who recently co-authored a policy brief for the Antiquities Coalition’s Think Tank. In their brief, Harrell and Koropeckyj call on cultural heritage professionals to play an active part in the ongoing conversation about taking down cultural monuments (or monument removal), given the field’s wealth of knowledge regarding the care, conservation, documentation relocation, storage, and removal of cultural property. The authors provide a series of recommendations to support heritage professionals in developing such principles based on what has worked in the museum context, which have relevance not only for the situation in Ukraine but also around the world.     

“Moving forward together as an international community of experts in heritage is particularly important in the face of issues as fraught as monumental removal,” Harrell and Koropeckyj write. “The policy recommendations that follow should be considered a call for action for both heritage workers and their executive organizational bodies.”

In addition to the destruction of monuments and sites, experts also report that the invasion represents the biggest art heist since the Nazis in World War II, with tens of thousands of pieces looted, including avant-garde oil paintings and Scythian gold. Looting and destruction of cultural heritage has huge implications for the war—in 2022, Dr. Christopher Jasparro warned in his co-authored policy brief for the AC Think Tank that historical propaganda and the exploitation of cultural heritage have become a central component of the Kremlin’s information warfare campaigns. Jasparro will join the webinar to provide an update on this situation, along with Dr. Samuel Hardy, a cultural property criminologist who is conducting research on Ukraine.

From recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and now, Ukraine, the international community has seen the catastrophic impact of war on cultural heritage. Ukrainians will face significant challenges in recovering their art and artifacts and rebuilding their communities. Law enforcement, governments, heritage professionals, and the art market can play a role in protecting Ukrainian heritage. The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to your participation in this important conversation. 

Moderated by Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition. 

AC Explores International Policy to Combat Looting During AIA’s Annual Meeting

In April 2003, looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq, stealing and destroying nearly 15,000 objects, of which only an approximate one-third have been recovered. Iraq’s cultural heritage continues to suffer looting and damage throughout conflict and beyond, exposing significant gaps in and prompting reevaluation of U.S. and international cultural heritage protection efforts from all sectors, including law, policy, academia, government, military, and the public.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, and Helena Arose, Project Director of the Antiquities Coalition, explored the scope of developments in cultural heritage protection over the past 20 years during the Archeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Annual Meeting from January 5-8, 2023.

Arose and Davis organized the session Cultural Heritage Protection After Iraq: Advances And Developments Over The Past 20 Years, where both spoke alongside other cultural heritage protection and preservation experts, including:

  • Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, research professor of law at DePaul University and director of its Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law.
  • Larry Schwartz, AC advisor and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
  • Dr. Catherine P. Foster, Executive Director for the Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee (CHCC) in the U.S. Department of State Cultural Heritage Center.
  • Corine Wegener, the director of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI).
  • Dr. Brian I. Daniels, AIA’s Vice President for Cultural Heritage.
  • Dr. Neil Brodie, a top expert in the field of antiquities trafficking and a Corresponding Member of the AIA.

Davis detailed the Antiquities Coalition’s partnerships with the State Department, ministries of foreign affairs, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement communities and what is still needed in international policy to effectively mitigate the illicit trade of art and antiquities. 

The looting of Iraq’s National Museum marked the beginning of widespread pillage at archaeological sites across the country by everyone from opportunistic criminals to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. This event changed the global conversation on cultural racketeering, raising awareness among the general public and policymakers, directly and indirectly leading to concrete changes in law and policy around the world. 

A report by the Antiquities Coalition and Dr. Brodie, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones: A Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects, emphasized that the illicit trade in cultural objects is not a preservation failure, but a failure of governance, law, diplomacy, civil society, and markets.

A lack of political will remains the main obstacle to positive change, but convening world leaders to raise awareness and grow support for coordinated action will help to recognize that antiquities trafficking is not just a threat to our shared history, but to human rights, national economies, and global security.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks the AIA for hosting and sponsoring this vital conversation and looks forward to playing a role in future policy developments to preserve and protect our shared history.





AC Founder Explores China’s Relationship with Archaeology in New Publication

Every country is home to a wealth of cultural masterpieces that represent thousands of years of history. As bad actors continue to loot and destroy heritage across the world, global cooperation and respect for one another’s culture are key to fighting the illicit antiquities trade. 

The China-Europe-America Global Initiative recently tackled this issue with regards to China in its third volume of China and the World. Edited by David Gosset, Founder of the CEA Global Initiative, the publication is authored by 20 global cultural and art experts, including Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition.

Lehr contributed Chapter 13, The Role of Archaeology in the Relationship between China and the World. In it she writes, “China’s role as a powerhouse in the global art market means that they are uniquely well positioned to take on a more proactive role in fighting the illicit trade of artifacts from other ancient societies that share their goal.” She also notes that, “Ultimately, it is critical to remember that cultural racketeering is not just a threat to the legitimate art market, but to our shared history, human rights, national economies, and global security.”

Other chapters focus on the global opportunity for partnerships, building a shared culture, the role of art and design, and more.

Gosset emphasized the goal of the publication during the launch event, saying, “Culture is the keystone of what we are doing and what we should do.”

The Antiquities Coalition previously collaborated with the CEA Global Initiative in 2022 for a global dialogue on National Museum Day. The event explored the vital responsibility of museums in the fight against cultural racketeering, featuring remarks from Lehr and Davis.

Learn more and purchase the book here.

AC’s Tess Davis Explores Cultural Racketeering in Florida During WAWLT Podcast

The American art market comprises 42% of the international art market, making it the largest in the world. Because of its scale, U.S. collectors, policymakers, and the public are uniquely positioned to play a role in combating the illicit trade of art and antiquities. 

While most individuals assume looted and stolen artifacts are prevalent only in the U.S.’s largest museums, these objects are located across the nation and appear frequently in smaller museums and at premier art shows.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, spoke to David Quiñones, one of the hosts of the Why Are We Like This? podcast, to discuss the global issue of cultural racketeering and how the illicit antiquities trade thrives in the podcast’s home state of Florida.

Miami Beach is the U.S. location for the Art Basel show, an art fair hosting some of the top galleries and auction houses in one place. Davis notes that because efforts to mitigate the illicit antiquities trade have largely focused on New York, illegal art markets are emerging in cities like Miami Beach, Houston, and more.

There have also been significant repatriations from Florida residents in recent years, most notably from Netscape founder James H. Clark. Clark’s collection included tens of millions of dollars worth of artifacts smuggled and trafficked from Southeast Asia, including the 1000-year-old statue of Ganesha.

Davis emphasizes that awareness around the illicit antiquities trade is growing and museum patrons are increasingly holding these institutions accountable for the stolen objects within their walls. As more individuals speak out about cultural racketeering, we can expect to see more repatriations from collectors and museums and vital policy change from national and international governments.

Listen to the full episode here.